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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

5 Ways Mindful Breathing Calms Your Nerves

5 Ways Mindful Breathing Calms Your Nerves

It seems like the world gets more complex every day. Our jobs become more demanding, our family’s needs become greater, and now we realize that a pandemic can turn our lives upside down in just a matter of days. All this increasing stress is putting our nerves on edge.

Some people have learned how to deal with stress more effectively than others. Those who haven’t need a quick and effective way to calm their nerves. Fortunately, there is a way. It’s called mindful breathing.

You may have already heard of mindful breathing, but maybe you’re not sure how it can help, or how to practice it. In this article, I’m going to share with you 5 ways mindful breathing can calm your nerves and help you relax. Then I’ll show you how simple the practice is and how quickly it works, so you can be more at ease during stressful times.

1. Calm Your Mind

One of the ways that mindful breathing calms your nerves is by calming your mind[1]. By calming your mind, you reduce the traffic jam in your mind that makes you restless and anxious. It helps you see yourself and the world with greater clarity by bringing you back to the present moment, where all life is taking place.

Many of us have a racing mind that seems almost impossible to slow down. Notice how I said “almost impossible.” The truth is that calming your mind is easier than you might think. It is actually more natural for our mind to be at rest than it is to be agitated. By sitting quietly and doing mindful breathing, you allow your mind to settle down naturally.

2. Calm Your Emotions

Mindful breathing calms your emotions in two ways. First, by calming your mind, you reduce the number of thoughts that trigger your emotions. Second, with a calm mind you see things with greater clarity, so you process events in your life with a more realistic perspective. Let’s examine these two ways a little bit more.

Our emotions are the result of the way we process events and information. Emotions are always preceded by our thoughts, whether conscious or unconscious. So, by calming your mind through mindful breathing, you simply reduce the number of thoughts that produce emotions.

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And since mindful breathing allows you to see the world with greater clarity, you’ll be able to see things differently. You’ll change the programming in your mind that leads to the stressful emotions. On a deeper level, you’ll be more objective in your analysis of information and events. You’ll also see that many things that happen in your life have nothing to do with you personally, so you won’t attach any emotions to them to begin with.

3. Calm Your Body

Mindful breathing also helps calm your body. One of the ways it does this is by relaxing your muscles and controlling the production of noradrenaline, a stress hormone[2]. When you breathe mindfully, your brain sends a signal to your muscles that it’s OK to relax. This is an instinctive reaction that we’ve developed through the evolution of our species. We’ll examine this in more detail below.

Another way that mindful breathing calms your body is through a synergy between the mind, body, and emotions. As you calm any one of these three areas, each will have a calming influence on the other. Think about it for a moment. You can’t have a calm mind with a tense body, or a calm mind with wildly erratic emotions. All three work together.

4. Trigger the Relaxation Response

There are also physiological reasons mindful breathing helps you relax. The body reacts to mindful breathing in what is called the “Relaxation Response.” The term was coined by Dr. Herbert Benson, professor, author, cardiologist, and founder of Harvard’s Mind/Body Medical Institute.

You may have heard of the “fight or flight” response, where humans react to stressful situations by fighting or running away. Well, the Relaxation Response is basically the opposite reaction. It is a way for us to relax when we are under excessive stress[3].

Remember, stress is a necessary response to tense situations where we have to deal with dangerous or critical situations. However, when we are under constant pressure from our environment, that reaction to stress will persist indefinitely, and this is dangerous to our health. This is where we can use mindful breathing to trigger the Relaxation Response.

In the Relaxation Response, what happens is that your metabolism decreases, breathing slows, heart rate slows, muscles relax, and blood pressure decreases. When you do deep breathing, oxygen supply to the brain increases, and this stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls energy expenditure, heart rate, and intestinal activity, among other functions[4]. This is largely what promotes a state of calmness when you practice mindful breathing and meditation[5].

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Another way by which breathing helps you relax is by stimulating the brain to release endorphins, the hormones that give you a feeling of calm and well-being. The way it works is that when you take a deep breath, your heart rate quickens slightly, and when you exhale, your heart rate slows down. When you do this repeatedly, your breath and heart rate will become in sync, which triggers the release of the endorphins[6].

5. Improve Your Health

Most of us take our breathing for granted. We never think about our breathing until we have some difficulty or ailment. But did you know that how you breathe, and how much, can have a significant impact on your health?

Deep Breathing

In a long-term study, researchers found that the greatest indicator of life span wasn’t factors that they had predicted, such as genetics, or diet and nutrition, but rather lung capacity. That is, the larger the lungs, the longer the life spans. They found that with larger lungs you can draw in more air, which leads to better circulation, and less wear and tear on the body.

Researchers have also discovered that greater lung capacity is associated with lower stress levels, less anxiety, and fewer incidences of depression and other mental disorders.

People with larger lungs take slower and longer breaths, so they naturally receive the benefits associated with greater lung capacity. However, this doesn’t mean that those of us with lower lung capacity can’t avail ourselves of the same benefits.

We can train ourselves to take deeper and slower breaths. This is where mindful breathing comes in. Instead of taking short and shallow breaths, make a conscious effort to take a slower and longer breath through your nose, then let it out at the same pace. Try this for a few minutes, and you should experience a calming effect, especially if you’re particularly tense.

Studies have also shown that deep, slow breathing can, in some cases, heal various respiratory ailments, such as asthma, allergies, and even emphysema and autoimmune diseases. There are various other methods and techniques to help you increase your lung capacity[7].

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Breathing Through Your Nose

Another interesting thing that researchers found is that it makes a big difference if you breathe through your nose vs. your mouth. They found that breathing through your mouth can lead to neurological disorders, periodontal disease, and higher risk of respiratory infection. And if that’s not enough, mouth breathing increases your blood pressure, snoring, sleep apnea, stress level, and lowers cognitive function.

Through nose breathing, you will absorb 18% more oxygen, so you can significantly lower your risk of developing these health problems. The way to make nose breathing a habit is to make a conscious effort to do it. That is, practice mindful breathing[8].

How to Practice Mindful Breathing

There are various breathing techniques that revolve around mindful breathing. Here I am going to discuss mindfulness meditation.

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is essentially mindful breathing. In a mindfulness meditation session, you generally sit quietly following your breath. The purpose of mindfulness meditation is to train ourselves to be in the present moment and observe what is happening in ourselves and the world around us. Since the breath is always taking place in the present moment, we use it as our anchor.

Here are some basic mindfulness meditation instructions:

Find a quiet place where you will not disturbed for a few minutes. Sit in a chair with your back straight, feet flat on the floor, and your hands in a comfortable position. Gently close your eyes, and begin observing your breath. When a stray thought or outside distraction interrupts your concentration, don’t dwell on it, then gently bring your attention back to your breath.

As you breathe, make a conscious effort to breathe through your nose. Occasionally, take a few deep breaths. Remember to inhale slowly, and exhale slowly. Don’t try to breathe like this for the whole session if you’re not used to it, as you may hyperventilate.

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If you’re new to mindfulness meditation, you can start by doing it for about 5-10 minutes at a time. As you get more comfortable with the practice, you can increase your session time to 15-20 minute. I would suggest practicing regularly, such as 4-5 times a week, or every day if you like. The idea is to have some consistency and commitment in order for it to stick, and for you to receive the health benefits.

Take a Break

Another thing you can do is to periodically take a short break and practice mindful breathing. All you have to do is momentarily stop whatever you’re doing, take 3-5 mindful breaths, then resume what you were doing. This should only take a few seconds. The great thing about this mindful breathing technique is that it keeps your mind from getting too agitated, so you can remain calm most of the time.

You can also practice mindful breathing during idle times, such as when you’re waiting in line, or waiting for an appointment. This is a great way to make good use of that time.

Final Thoughts

If you’re like most people, your life has become more complex and stressful as you’ve built a family and advanced in your career. As the demands on your life have increased, so has your stress level.

Many of us never learn how to relax until we’re overwhelmed and stressed out. The good news is that the simple mindful breathing techniques described above are highly effective and work quickly. Furthermore, they also don’t take much time to practice.

You don’t have to let the demands on your life keep your nerves on edge. Not only can you reduce your stress level with mindful breathing, but you can also keep it from rising in the first place.

More Tips on Mindful Breathing

Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Greater Good Magazine: What Focusing on the Breath Does to Your Brain
[2] Search Inside Yourself: Why Mindful Breathing Benefits Mind and Body
[3] Psychology Today: Dr. Herbert Benson’s Relaxation Response
[4] Science Daily: Parasympathetic nervous system
[5] The American Institute of Stress: Take a Deep Breath
[6] Neurocore: Does Deep Breathing Really Do Anything?
[7] Lung Health Institute: How to Increase Lung Capacity in 5 Easy Steps
[8] The Wall Street Journal: The Healing Power of Proper Breathing

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Charles A. Francis

Author, meditation teacher, and director of the Mindfulness Meditation Institute

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Published on March 2, 2021

How To Not Stress: 10 Stress Management Techniques

How To Not Stress: 10 Stress Management Techniques

It is not easy to decipher how to not stress, as stress is a part of life. Stress is the wear and tear of our mental and physical being as we continue to find soothing ways to cope with the constant change in our surroundings.

People often think of stress as related to work, chores at home, illnesses, and trying to beat rush hour traffic—which is not wrong—but it is more. Several factors trigger stress, but stress is the body’s internal reaction to fight or take flight in the presence of adversity.

In simple biological terms, stress is the state of increased arousal necessary for the human body to defend itself from a clear and present danger. Whenever we feel anxious, angered, tired, frightened, happy, excited, sad, or afraid, we are undergoing stress.

From minor challenges to major issues, stress is an acceptable and unavoidable pressure of human life. Stress is normal until we are incapable of controlling and coping with the overwhelming effect that stress becomes a problem.

Three in every four adults American suffer from stress—that is about 77 percent of the population.[1] Stress is triggered by anything from the economy, jobs, home front, kids, illnesses, and so on.

Types of Stress

In learning how not to stress, you must understand the types of stress and how you encourage it in your life. The causes of stress (stressors) are varied and multiple, but I am grouping them into two sectors.

External Stressors

These are external triggers that affect your immediate ability to stay focused or composed. They are:

  • Physical environment – confined spaces, light, noise, heat, brightness, and even darkness
  • Organizational – rules, regulation, deadlines, office gossips, pressure from work, etc
  • Social interaction – bullying, bossiness, disregard, harassment, aggressiveness (general human behavior towards you)
  • Life crises – death, relocation, new baby, marriage, losing your job, divorce, etc
  • Daily hassles – late in catching the bus, misplacing your car/house keys, mechanical breakdown, etc

Internal Stressors

These are stressors that emanate from our thoughts, mindset, and attitude. For example:

  • Your lifestyle – not getting enough sleep, busy schedules, caffeine or alcohol
  • Negative thoughts – pessimism, self-criticism, overthinking, feeling incapable.
  • Mind traps – being too personal about issues, unrealistic expectations, exaggerated or rigid mindset, etc
  • Personality traits – workaholic, OCD, perfectionist, etc

These factors contribute heavily to mental and physical stress leading to fear, anger, unforgiveness, and depression.

Stress and You

To consider stress as an ailment of modernity and technology is misinforming. Yes, our fast-paced lives and lifestyle are stressful, straining, and under relentless pressure. But we have actually created these triggers on our own. This is due to a desire for intense competitiveness and to match up with our peers. Stress is different for every individual, even if they are in the same situation.

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For example, a couple going through a bitter divorce will see the man enjoying himself while the lady suffers from bouts of emotional ups and downs. What is distressing to you may be nothing to another.

Take this example: a man works effectively in the comfort of his home yet finds working in a team or office stressful and overwhelming.

It is necessary to know that most of the stresses we experience are self-generated and self-induced. How we perceive (life)—whether a situation is threatening, sad, or happy—depends on how we see ourselves. The ability to recognize the stresses we create is the first step toward preventing stress.

Symptoms of Stress

Excessive, prolonging, and denying the existent of stress in our lives is detrimental and affects our entirety—and if left unresolved, results in a feeling of fear, anger, frustration, and depression.

Stress contributes to simple illnesses like headaches, skin diseases, ulcers, insomnia, and digestive problems. In severe cases, stress can lead to suicidal thoughts and death. The following are the symptoms of stress grouped into four categories.

Physical Symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Change in sleep pattern without any obvious reason
  • Unstable digestive system resulting in diarrhea and inability to hold down food
  • Low sexual libido
  • Headaches and body pain
  • Dizziness, unnecessary sweating, and feeling faint
  • Palpitations, breathlessness, quickened heartbeats, or missed heartbeats

Mental Symptoms

  • Inability to focus
  • Memory lapses
  • Indecisiveness
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Fear/panic attack

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Eating disorder and appetite
  • Increase smoking and alcohol intake
  • Restlessness, fidgeting, and nail-biting

Emotional Symptoms

  • Depression
  • Easily irritated
  • Anger, rage, cry easily
  • Deterioration in hygiene habit and appearance

The primary triggers of stress are lack of financial stability, job security, family responsibility, personal relationship, health issues, and safety. Now that we have successfully categorized stress, it is time to recognize the one you are suffering from and choose a simple technique to manage it.

Remember, stress can be controlled, allowing you to live a fulfilling life.

10 Stress Management Techniques

The most common stress management techniques are eating right, exercise, yoga, and meditation. However, some stress is beyond these four techniques, so we will try to list out as many as possible to help you beat that stressful situation.

A set of simple yet effective techniques to help individuals identify, understand, and effectively deal with the stress in their lives to minimize the impact.

1. Change the Perspective

How many times have you replayed a negative situation and outcome in your head that never happens? We are all human, and as crazy as it sounds, negativity is appealing and more creative than positive things. However, stress is tied to negativity and our inability to break free from them.

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Changing your perspective is not as simple as ABC. However, you can start by analyzing the feeling, removing all exaggerated parts, pick out the truth (be honest here) and discard the rest. Phew, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

Now, take the truth and work on it from a positive angle. You will immediately feel less stressed, disoriented, and angered. It will take some time, but never judge an issue from an exaggerated point of view.

2. Create a Journal

A problem shared is half solved. While we cannot all go about blabbing our predicaments to others, an effective way of sharing and solving is journaling. There is really nothing difficult about journaling—it is just you writing the day’s events and how they made you feel.

Stress takes clarity, focus, and awareness of our immediate environment from us. Well, journaling restores them back to you. When you write down your feelings, you can identify, understand and deal with them better than replaying them in your head. It allows you to separate your feelings, accurately define emotion connect with your internal aura for better clarity.

3. Mindful Breathing

Stress takes peace and stability away from your life. Breathing is held in high regard by Buddhists, Hindus, and Taoists who believe breathing is a system of reintroducing peace into a troubled soul.

Mindful breathing is breathing that comes from the pit of your belly. It is, deep consistent, and stress relieving breathes which calm you down.

Mindful breathing can be done anyway in two easy steps:

  • Gentle inhale air to fill your lungs and stomach while slowly counting to 3 or five through your nose
  • Hold for a second or two and gradually exhale while counting 1 through 5

Repeat this as many times as possible until you feel your power returning to you. As you exhale, imagine that you are breathing out the stressors and tension.

4. Positive and Guided Daydreaming

We all daydream—some are good, and others run wild with our imagination. Using guided images and thoughts, you can avert a stress situation from escalating.

For example, you just had a heated argument with your spouse on the phone, and you are at work. Two things can happen: have your mood down all day, or you can identify the stress and calm dissipate it with happier images—daydreaming.

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Close your eyes and imagine a happy memory. Use good thoughts to counteract negative ones ad build your confidence from deep within. Also, forgive the situation and yourself, else you will keep playing the thought in your mind.

5. Go Back to Your To-Do List

If you cannot complete the chores, let it be. Remember that trying to squeeze in more than you can handle is actually killing you gradually. Even superman rests once in a while, so you should, too.

Reducing or prioritizing your workload could be the solution to the constant headaches, backaches, and shoulders. If you are a mom, learn to delegate duties to your kids or allocate time to work for yourself.

6. Yoga It

Yoga is an Indian form of meditation that combines simple poses, deep breathing, and relaxation techniques to ward off stress and stressors. Yoga is an effective stress relief technique because it deals with the physical, emotional, and mental organs that stress hacks into. The immediate benefits of yoga are felt immediately, but the long-term impact is also beautiful.

To get started, you can follow simple yoga programs online or enroll in a class to help you to master the poses at your own pace. Yoga enables you to breathe easily, improves the clarity of thoughts and mind, relaxes the body and mental health. However, if the twist and turns of yoga are not for you, then you will enjoy the next technique.

7. Add Exercise to Your Routine

Our body is like a car engine, if you do not maintain it, it will crash when you need it most. Regular exercise builds a strong body, no doubt. However, it also builds a strong mind to deal with stresses that affect us daily. You do not have to HIIT or do any strenuous exercise, choose something simple and for 7 to 15 minutes every day.

Joining a gym or community fitness center is outstanding, but you can choose to walk, run, jog, swim or go dancing. The idea is to keep your body moving for fun. Furthermore, if you are the outdoorsy type, indulge in your passion and watch the stress melt away.

8. Massage and Detox Therapy

When your insides are unclean, it can lead to stress. Equally, tired and over-working can double the stress effect leading to illness and mental breakdown.

There are many reasons to go for a massage, and stress is one of them. Massages are an ideal tool for maintaining physical and emotional health. While detoxification is a way to relieve the stress on your internal organs, both will make you feel light and relaxed.

9. Imbibe in the Power of Positive Affirmations

The power of positive talk has proven to increases positive emotion, compassion, and confidence in the speaker. How we treat ourselves determines the outcome. If you begin the day with negativity, you are likely to attract negativity and problems to yourself.

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However, if you take your time to affirm positive thoughts in your life, you will succeed. Affirmations are more than mere words; they are meant to awaken the optimistic and daring part of your being.

So, when you feel that negative emotions are building up or images are flashing before your eyes, take a moment and remind yourself of your capabilities and believe it, too. What you perceive is what you are.

10. Getting Enough Sleep

Let’s be honest, it is almost impossible to get 8 hours of sleep as recommended, but you can get a good night’s sleep instead. Many people sleep for 8 hours or more but are restless in their sleep and wake up feeling exhausted, drained, and stressed.

Sleep is a fundamental way for the body to recuperate for the day’s activities. However, your sleeping condition should be prioritized for relaxing sleep. To do this, ensure your mattress is comfortable and your bedroom is at the right temperature.

If you cannot get 8 hours at night, try to nap in the afternoons and watch your diet before bed. Finally, create a sleep routine. You do not have to “do-or-die” it, but gradually ease your way into better sleep.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, stress is the baggage you refuse to let go of. The more you pile on, the deeper you are sinking into a place of darkness.

Let go of the excess load now. Start by following these stress management techniques on how not to stress. Do you have one or two methods you are currently using to relieve stress? Feel free to add them to the list.

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Featured photo credit: whoislimos via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] American Psychological Association: Stress in America™ 2020

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